Criminal Law

If Your Children Are Sexting

"Sexting" is sending sexually explicit images and text by electronic means. Often, those involved in sexting are teens under the age of majority. Because of anti-child-pornography laws, sexting can be even more serious when images are of children. Teens and adults must understand that sexting can be a crime carrying harsh legal consequences.

Sexting Usually Involves Mobile Phones

Typical teen sexting involves a mobile phone with a built-in camera, but sending sexually explicit images with any electronic device - such as digital cameras, webcams and email accounts - is considered sexting.

Images can range from semi-nude and fully nude to explicit sexual activity and are usually sent with the idea of sharing with a single boyfriend or girlfriend. Problems occur when images are shared with others by forwarding from one mobile phone to another or posting the images on the Internet.

Sexting Violates Child Pornography Laws

Teen sexting violates state and federal laws against child pornography. The teen may not intend to engage in child pornography, but these laws do not distinguish between teen sexting and other means of producing, distributing, or possessing images considered child pornography.

Teens have already been prosecuted and convicted under child pornography laws in several states due to sexting. In addition to fines, jail time, and probation restrictions, convicted teens must also comply with state and federal laws that require registering as a sex offender.

Some States Have Enacted Sexting Laws Regarding Teens

Several states have passed laws making teen sexting illegal but do not make it a crime involving child pornography. Since 2009, 16 states have enacted teen sexting laws, with 21 more states considering laws in 2011.

These new laws are intended to educate teens that sexting is illegal, and teens caught sexting may have to complete classes on the dangers of sending or receiving sexually explicit images. Violations of these new sexting laws can also result in fines and community service hours.

Teen Sexting Can Cause Problems for Parents

The cost of a teen court-ordered instructional classes for violating sexting laws will most likely be incurred by the parents. Because the parents typically own the mobile phone or other electronic device used by their teen for sexting, the parents may also be liable for civil damages if the sexting is done in a malicious or bullying manner. This can occur when sexting is done to blackmail or retaliate against an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.

A Family Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding teen sexting activity is complicated and varies throughout the country. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family lawyer.

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